Phantom of Death (1988)

Phantom of Death 1988

Let the symphony of slaughter begin!

Pianist Robert Dominici suddenly contracts a rare and devastating disease that causes him to age rapidly. He also begins to suffer from memory loss and experiences mental problems. So when a spate of murders suddenly occurs around him, he draws the attention of Datti, a veteran police inspector determined to stop this maniac before he kills again.


My giallo-thon rolls on with another gory Italian slasher-thriller, Phantom of Death. Made by one of the most notorious Italian directors of all time (Ruggero Deodato, the man who unleashed Cannibal Holocaust upon the world) and with a host of other behind-the-scenes names who worked on other Italian horrors, Phantom of Death is a sort of twist on the tale of The Phantom of the Opera. But with this being an Italian spin, you can be rest assured of some bad acting, some terrible scripts and some over-the-top gore scenes. However if you’re looking for Deodato to shock the censors into submission for a second time, then you’ve come to the wrong place. It may be billed as a blood-splattered slash-fest but Phantom of Death is a more character-driven murder-mystery.

This giallo has some severe pacing problems though and despite a gruesome murder during the opening credits, not a great deal happens for the next third of the film. Instead the film is heavy on weak plot and pretty bland character development. The film tries to throw a curveball or two by pretending that the killer isn’t Dominici and every time he phones up the police inspector to taunt him about a new murder, he has his back to the camera. But we all know who it is early on and the fun of the ‘guess the killer’ mystery just disappears.

Unfortunately the film should have then just taken the gore and blood-soaked murdering to a new level by having him slay a few more people but he doesn’t and the body count is woefully inadequate. The gory deaths actually seem rather out of place at times and seem to have been added simply to beef the film up to try and attract the gore hounds. The film does work best when Datti pinpoints the murders on Dominici but can’t prove it as the witness reports are contradictory and, as Dominici is obviously aging rapidly, finds it extremely difficult to believe. The cat-and-mouse games between the two of them are pretty good

The film is greatly enhanced by the addition of its two famous ‘foreign’ stars in Michael York and Donald Pleasance. York’s character is the star of the show and he’s excellent as the tormented pianist. He’s not a nasty villain who deserves to be booed off the screen but rather a tragic man on the verge of death who has lost his self-control. His performance isn’t hammy or over-the-top and is rather touching at times. Even the make-up effects to make him age rapidly are very believable until he’s almost unrecognisable at the end.

Pleasance was clearly getting old and a little bit doddery but he still manages to instil the inspector with a degree of seasoned determination. He’s got a pretty throwaway role though and doesn’t do an awful lot with it but it’s still nice to see a familiar face. However I believe that the film relies a little too heavily on their name value – with the script as weak as it is, it wasn’t going to matter who starred! They’re expected to hold the film up during the bulk of the dull, talky periods and whilst they do a good job for the most part, it’s just enough.


Phantom of Death is a rather limp giallo which had a decent idea and even had some alright moments but it’s too talky and doesn’t make a lot of sense at times. You’ll most likely be as exhausted and tired as the poor old dying pianist by the end of it!





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